Evaluating talent overseas has become an integral part of the draft selection process for every NBA scouting department.
And this year is no different.
Croatia's Dario Saric, who's been on radars now for the past few years, has officially declared for the draft after his dominant season abroad for Cibona. Recently named 2013 FIBA Europe Young Player of the Year, Saric is fresh off an MVP performance in the Adriatic League final where he went for 23 points, 11 boards, seven assists and five blocks against Cedevita.
It was borderline masterpiece material. Saric completely took over the game, not just as a scorer, but as a facilitator and primary playmaker. At 6'10", he was creating for teammates from the point, wing and post. He was attacking off the dribble, controlling the glass and protecting the rim.
Saric, along with any other international prospect who's declared, still has until June 16 to withdraw his name from the draft if he decides he isn't happy with the feedback he's getting from NBA evaluators. But after his latest gem, which capped off a season that saw him lead his league in scoring and rebounding, Saric sure looks the part of a lottery or top-10 pick.
And Saric isn't even the prize of this projected international class—that label goes to Australia's Dante Exum, a possible top-five pick due to the mismatch he'll potentially present as a 6'6" scoring point guard with world-class athleticism.
While Exum and Saric have been the two most high-profile names overseas, there's now another name to consider adding into the lottery conversation: Bosnia's Jusuf Nurkic.
Nurkic finished with the highest Player Efficiency Rating of any player in the Adriatic League, per DraftExpress. At 6'11", 280 pounds, Nurkic is a monster who moves with grace. He's an absolute handful whenever he's in the game, thanks to his tremendous blend of size, length and strength to go with some impressive touch in the paint.
Unlike Saric and Exum, Nurkic wasn't thought of as a can't-miss prospect coming in, although he did generate some buzz at last year's Eurocamp in Italy.
Between Saric, Exum and Nurkic, we could be looking at three potential lottery picks in 2014. That's how I have it playing out in our latest two-round mock draft.
Since 2006, the first year that didn't allow prospects to declare straight out of high school, 10 international prospects have been taken with a lottery pick over the last eight drafts. That's an average of 1.25 per lottery, according to my wizard-like math skills.
And of those 10 prospects, only Andrea Bargnani, Danilo Gallinari, Ricky Rubio, Enes Kanter, Jonas Valanciunas and Thabo Sefolosha have done enough to stick as regular contributors.
If Exum, Saric and Nurkic can meet the expectations set for them, the projected international star power could be as powerful as any draft's in recent memory.
But it's not just those three.
Each draft typically has a handful of international guys who've flashed enough potential to get themselves selected—just not enough to trigger a lottery bite or to establish that sure-thing status. And it's these 2014 second- and third-tier international prospects who could end up making their class a special one down the road.
However, the 2008 draft set the bar in terms of which international class produced the most NBA talent:
|2008 NBA Draft: Notable International Prospects|
|Danilo Galinari, Italy||No. 6|
|Serge Ibaka, Congo||No. 24|
|Nicolas Batum, France||No. 25|
|Nikola Pekovic, Montenegro||No. 31|
|Omer Asik, Turkey||No. 36|
|Goran Dragic||No. 45|
No class lately comes close to 2008's.
The 2014 draft has a number of mid-to-late first-round or second-round international prospects who have the potential to put this class right behind 2008's—if they pan out:
|Potential Mid-First Round to Second Round International Prospects|
|Kristaps Porzingis, Latvia, 7'0", C, 1995||Mid-to-Late First Round|
|Clint Capela, Switzerland, 6'11", PF/C, 1994||Mid-to-Late First Round|
|Vasilije Micic, Serbia, 6'5", PG, 1994||Late First Round to Second Round|
|Damien Inglis, France, 6'9", SF, 1995||Late First Round to Second Round|
|Bogdan Bogdanovic, Serbia, 6'6", SG/SF, 1994||Late First Round to Second Round|
|Walter Tavares, Gran Canaria, 7'2", C, 1992||Second Round|
|Artem Klimenko, Russia, 7'1", C, 1994||Second Round|
|Nikola Jokic, Serbia, 6'11", C, 1995||Second Round|
Latvia's Kristaps Porzingis was the latest to declare for the draft, per Jonathan Givony of DraftExpress, giving the projected first round a potential unexpected boost.
The projected 2014 international class was looking strong with Exum and Saric alone. But if some of these hit-or-miss guys actually hit, it's not just the international class that's going to look good—this entire 2014 class could end up being awfully deep. We could be talking about some first-round talent slipping into Round 2.
At this point, teams should just be hoping these guys actually stay in the draft through the NBA withdrawal deadline. Even though Saric declared, it's possible he takes his name out next month.
"His target is to be in the top 10 picks of the draft this year, maybe it would be acceptable to be a lottery pick," Saric's agent told Givony. "If we have a clear situation for getting where we would like him to be drafted, then for sure he will keep his name in."
Like any international class, this one is all about potential, only it's coming from more places, and the upside at the top is higher.
And with Exum at the top, followed by Saric, that potential for this 2014 international class is huge.